[ Tongam Rina ]
During his Independence Day speech at IG Park in Itanagar on 15 August, Chief Minister Pema Khandu said, “I would like to assure the people of my state that the provisions of Article 371 (H) will continue to stay in force and the same has been categorically assured in the parliament by the government India.”
The statement was widely reported in the media.
So, based on what the chief minister said, this daily ran a poll on whether the Centre should do away with Article 371 (H). More than 60 percent of those who took part in the poll said the article should stay.
There were many comments, in support and in opposition, but some of them were too ill-informed and nasty to be published. Yours truly found it interesting that those who had the most abusive words for us for asking the question came across as the ones who seemed very worried about the rights of the state’s indigenous people.
Article 371 (H) does not grant any special provision or rights to the indigenous people of the state or its elected representatives. It grants special provision to the Centre, via the governor of Arunachal. The article gives extraordinary power to the governor in regard to law and order in the state. The article states that the governor shall take action after consulting the council of ministers, but in the same line it says that he “shall exercise his individual judgment as to the action to be taken.” The judgment of the governor cannot be questioned under the article.
Not many years ago, we witnessed how the then governor, JP Rajkhowa, misused the powers bestowed on a governor when he advanced the legislative assembly session from 14 January, 2016, to 16 December, 2015, triggering political instability in the state. He was eventually shunted out by the government after making him the ultimate scapegoat as the BJP launched a ruthless campaign to oust the Congress from power in the state.
Even as the Pema Khandu government says that Article 371 (H) will stay, the state had earlier on written twice to the Centre to do away with the article as it does not provide any rights to the people of the state. According to records available, the state government wrote to the home ministry in 1998 and 2006 to amend the constitution by discarding Article 371 (H) and instead bringing the state under the provisions of Articles 371 (A) and 371 (G) which provide constitutional rights to the people to their land and resources in Nagaland and Mizoram. The people of Nagaland and Mizoram still have the right to their land and resources, and unless the people grant permission, the resources cannot be taken away from them.
The only provision that guarantees the tribal people of our state some amount of rights in regard to land ownership is the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. One can only hope that this provision is not tinkered with in the name of the BJP’s concept of Akhand Bharat, which proposes ‘one India’, undermining the diversity of the country.
[ Tongam Rina ]